An Engineered Future?

An angel in the Christmas pageant.

Christmas angel: the image of God.

When I look deeply into the eyes of my grandchildren, sometimes I say, “When I look into your eyes I can see God.”  For me, each precious child is an expression of the divine, an embodiment of Love.  I also know that Spirit is not only manifest through human beings.  The earth and the universe itself is an expression of the glory of God.

This is ultimately what the concept of “incarnation” is about.  Matter is not separate from Spirit, but expresses Spirit.  We live in a sacramental universe–the creation is an “outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.”

We human beings, however, cannot always tell the difference between sacred and profane.  And sadly, today’s institutions and systems are built upon commercializing, manipulating, exploiting, and altering the natural world, including the very bodies of human beings.

Guari and I spent the last two days at a gathering focused on……  The presenter was Jaydee Hanson, a friend we used to work with in the 1990s when he led the Ministry of God’s Creation at the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society.  Jaydee is now Policy Director of The International Center for Technology Assessment and the Center for Food Safety.

Jaydee updated us on new technologies and how they have progressed.  For instance, no longer does genetic engineering simply consist of modifying of life forms by inserting genes of one species into another.  Scientists are now engaged in synthetic biology.   They write whole new genetic codes in order to redesign existing species or to create new life forms, using materials that can be ordered online.  Having already cloned Rhesus monkeys, a company is now seeking a patent to genetically engineer a human embryo.

Nanotechnology has progressed to the point where nano-sized particles are now in many common products, including tools, clothes, cosmetics, and even foods.  Nano particles are sprayed onto M&Ms and sugary breakfast cereals to create a long-lasting, shiny effect.  As a matter of fact, quite a few common foods contain nano-particles.  Sunscreens and anti-aging creams often contain titanium dioxide, a nano product that allows the creams to be absorbed, not just into the skin but into the cells.  Anti-fungal socks may contain nano-silver to keep your socks from smelling bad.  Tires are often sprayed with carbon nanotubes to make them more resilient, then the old tires are shredded to make (voila!) spongey surfaces for children’s playgrounds that can release particles that the children then breathe.  According to Scientific American, carbon nanotubes may be as toxic as asbestos.  Plastic bags often contain a sprayed-on nano product that can shed particles onto foods–even organic foods.

What’s the problem with having common household products that contain nanotechnology products ?  Nano-sized particles are so small that they can cross the blood-brain barrier and can enter the nuclei of our cells, causing mutations that will be passed on to future generations.

Some nano “tubes” are small enough to be breathed into the lungs (from spray-on sunscreen, hair spray, tires on playgrounds, etc.), but too long to be breathed out, so can have long-term effects.

These are yet more unintended consequences of human projects that sounded good (to someone) at the time.  Our beautiful planet is being devastated by such projects, which are the direct result of the de-sacrilization of the natural world.

Meanwhile, many of the promises of miraculous medical cures have not been realized, but the unregulated research and flow of corporate and government money continues.  There needs to be much more public awareness, debate, and ethical action on this issue, which is intertwined with the need for transformed values, institutions, and systems.  We need to slow down this process of engineering the future, where creation is being made over in the image of the ideologies, institutions, and systems that we human beings have created.

I hope and pray that the day will come when my grandchildren will be able to look into the eyes of their grandchildren and say, “When I look into your eyes, I can see God.”  I am dedicating my life to that goal.

This is not the first time I have written about advanced technologies.  My book, Shaking the Gates of Hell:  Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization, includes a chapter on “Engineering the Future:  Techno-Utopia or Techno-Hell,” which begins with the story of a Stanford project to insert human brain cells into mice. 

The website of the The International Center for Technology Assessment and the Center for Food Safety is comprehensive, and includes information about their suggestions for ethical guidelines and advocacy for regulations.  Find their Resources page here. 


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